Agent Sasha Merlo yawned as she slowly moved through the halls of Site-64, a mug of stale coffee in her hands. She had not gotten much sleep over the past few days. The current rush to extract as much usable data from Miles Wilson, and the looming possibility of an attack from the POI known as Anderson, had created an environment entirely hostile to the concept of rest. Merlo stopped in front of the door to her office and rubbed her eye with her free hand before stepping inside. As the door closed behind her, she took a sip of the acrid liquid in her mug before noticing that she was not alone, as another individual was reading a file left on her desk.
Standing behind her desk was a masculine figure of medium height. It wore a bright red shirt underneath a charcoal blazer with matching slacks. Its skin was the color of ivory, and completely hairless, veins visible beneath the room’s bright light. Its head was without ears, and its face was obscured behind a silver comedy mask. The individual stood up straight and looked at an unimpressive watch on its right wrist.
“Oh, uh, you’re back early,” it said in a deep, metallic, male voice. “Your, uh, your average coffee break is not supposed to be over for at least another fifteen minutes.”
Merlo recognized the voice in an instant. She immediately dropped her mug, her hand reaching towards her pistol. Before she could get her fingers around the grip, the unwelcome guest had reached into his pockets and flung globs of fluorescent orange goo at her. As the first glob made contact, she felt her hand stick to her chest, the substance hardening instantaneously into a shell. The remaining globs hit her in the legs and on her other arm, encasing her in a bright orange cocoon.
Agent Merlo looked up, her breath caught in her throat as a million scenarios ran through her mind, each ending in a progressively worse outcome for both her and the rest of Gamma-13. The man stood above her, a glob of neon blue goo in one hand as he held up a finger to the mouth of his mask.
“You should, um, you should remember what the blue stuff does from your run in with Phineas,” said the intruder. “If you scream or, uh, call for help, I will lob this onto your face.”
Merlo immediately fell silent. Her gaze unwavering as she watched her assailant reach into the inner pocket of his jacket and place a small silver orb on Merlo’s desk. The orb immediately sprouted several mechanical legs, and revealed itself to be one of Anderson’s Amur Recon Drones. The man made a small gesture, and the Amur began to issue a small hum. He then placed the blue goo back in his jacket pocket and then set about propping Merlo against a wall.
“Okay,” he said, “You can, uh, you can speak freely now.”
“Why?” Merlo asked, her eyes narrowing as she looked at the Amur on her desk.
“I, uh, call this little guy Benny,” he replied, the Amur waved at her with one of its many legs. “He’s a custom Amur I built myself. One of his features is a noise cancellation device. Nothing we say, um, will be audible outside this room.”
The man then returned to the area behind Merlo’s desk and took a seat in her chair.
“You, uh, you probably already guessed this by now, but I’m Anderson,” he said as he sat down. “Pleased to meet you, Sasha, I guess.”
“The pleasure’s all mine,” Merlo replied flatly. Anderson gave an awkward nod of agreement, and then turned his attention to the open file on her desk. The room fell silent, save for Benny’s low hum. After several minutes Merlo finally opted to speak.
“So that’s it then?” She asked, “You’re just going to read your file and walk out of here?”
“Well, uh, I’m not going to kill you, if that’s what you think,” Anderson replied with a chuckle, “You guys all seem to think I’m some kind of James Bond villain when I’m just a small business owner. To be honest I was hoping to avoid a confrontation like this entirely. You, uh, just came back too early.”
“Small business owners generally don’t manufacture automated sentry turrets whose designs break the laws of entropy,” said Merlo. Anderson shrugged in response.
“This one does.”
“Fair enough,” Merlo rolled her eyes. “That still doesn’t answer the question of how you plan on getting out of here with Miles. You’re not just going to be able to walk out the front door.”
“Uh, Sasha,” Anderson snickered, “I walked in the front door. Getting Miles out of here is, um, not too far out of the realm of possibility. In fact…”
Anderson paused as he pulled a small black remote out of his jacket pocket and pressed a button. Within a few moments a low rumble could be heard elsewhere in the facility, as well as gunshots. Alarm klaxons went off a few seconds later. Anderson then proceeded to neatly place all the papers back in the file and stepped away from the desk.
“Anyway,” he continued as he began to make his way towards the door. Benny quickly rolled off the table then crawled up his leg and into his jacket pocket. “Whoever put my file together did, uh, did a bang up job. I didn’t know you guys had so much dirt on me. Congratulations.”
Anderson opened the door and stepped into the hall.
“Remind me to, uh, buy you a drink when we next meet,” Anderson called back into the room as the door closed. Merlo then listened to the alarm klaxons blaring and the occasional gun shots.
“I’m so fired,” she said with a heavy sigh. Agent Merlo then closed her eyes and waited for someone to find her.
Agent Clarissa Shaw had been on her way to the holding cell where they were keeping Miles Wilson. She carried a new set of interview questions prepared to take advantage of what little time remained before Gamma-13’s most recent catch was transferred to the care of Site-81. It was then that she heard the alarm klaxons and gunshots, followed by a low rumble, which slowly built into a cacophony. Curiously, she turned to investigate. Shaw felt her jaw drop. Rapidly approaching was a swarm of thousands of Amur Recon Drones.
Shaw turned to run, but before she could travel more than a few feet the swarm had already engulfed her. She felt something stab into her leg and within a few moments she was on the floor, unable to move. Sharp pinpricks covered her entire body and she screamed, only to have her cry drowned out by the combined noise of the robotic swarm. After an eternity passed, the swarm was gone.
Within a few moments Shaw regained control of her extremities and neatly returned her glasses to their spot on her nose. One of the lenses was scratched, but otherwise the thin rimmed eyewear was unharmed. Shaw looked around for any sign of the horde of drones, but saw nothing save the empty hallway. Getting to her feet, the agent slowly proceeded to make her way towards Mile’s cell.
By the time she arrived at the correct cell, Shaw found the door had been jammed open, several of Site-64’s security personnel lying scattered on the ground. As they struggled to stand Shaw realized they had each had a similar run in with the swarm. Carefully drawing her pistol, Shaw stepped inside the cell, only to find it empty with the covering to the ventilation duct shredded. The smell of blood then drew Shaw’s attention to the room’s cot. Lying on top, neatly folded as if it were clothing, was Miles' skin.
At a large table in a brightly lit conference room that lacked windows, five individuals silently sat awaiting a sixth and seventh guest.
Sitting at the head of the table was a muscular man in his forties named Isaac. Easily the most business savvy man in the room, he formerly helped run a weapons design firm based in Los Angeles. A near constant frown adorned his face.
To Isaac’s right sat a short woman with shoulder length brunette hair, faint blue eyes, and an ever warm smile. Her name was Medea and she had been a professor of robotics at some university in Tennessee, though the other individuals in the room had long forgotten its name.
Sitting by her side was her adopted son, Jason. A child prodigy in robotics, he was a tall, lanky young man in his mid-twenties whose head was covered in curly blond hair. A thick pair of glasses covered his eyes, and a small smirk was permanently parked on his face.
Across the table from Jason sat Phineas, an old man who appeared to be in his fifties, with a bald head, a long white beard, and almost translucent skin. He was both an “anartist” and a tinkerer, and every time he moved, a faint mechanical whirling could be heard.
Finally, next to Phineas sat a short, portly, middle-aged man with dark skin and a permanent expression of worry. A specialist in artificial intelligence, he was the man responsible for the existence of the Saker units. His name was Jeffery Wilson.
Before too much longer, the single door to the room opened and a swarm of Amur drones poured in, clustering at a spot in the corner. The drones piled into a column nearly 2 meters high. Various electrical sounds and noises of metal on metal could be heard at the pillar’s center as the drones vibrated with activity. After a few more moments, the robots dispersed, pouring out the door and leaving the white endoskeleton of a Saker unit in its place. Upon the egress of the last drone Anderson stepped into the room.
“The, uh, the prodigal son hath returned,” he said as he slowly made his way towards the end of the table opposite Isaac. The room’s bright lighting reflected off the silver paint of his comedy mask. “As promised, um, I managed to bring Miles back too.”
Jeffery was already in the corner with the endoskeleton, frantically inspecting every square inch of its white frame. A few seconds later, Jeffery held the Saker in a tight bear hug.
“Dad?” Miles’s voice came from the Saker. Jeffery began to sob.
“I’m so sorry Miles, for all that you’ve been through and all that’s left to be done,” Jeffery mumbled.
“You do know what you need to do now, right?” Medea asked. Jeffery let go of the Saker and dried his eyes with a nod.
“Saker-00,” he said to the robot, “Report to designated maintenance site and shut down until further orders.” The Saker mechanically nodded and left the room. Jeffery then returned to the conference table, and placed his head in his hands.
“Anyway,” began Jason, “Shall we proceed?”
“We shall,” returned Anderson. “I take it that Isaac shared with everyone Mr. Marshall’s offer?”
“I have,” Isaac answered.
“And, um, I am willing to bet that during the discussion that followed, everyone but, uh, Isaac and Jeffery was against accepting the offer.”
“That is correct,” replied Phineas. “I’m sorry Vincent, but that’s just a no go.”
Anderson sighed and turned away in his chair.
“Friends,” said Anderson, “When I originally approached each of you, um, to begin this little firm, I did so with a promise. That promise was to, uh, provide each of you with the freedom to create what you were denied everywhere else. To this day, I have largely been able to keep that promise, but that is a task that has become increasingly difficult with each sale we make.”
Anderson then turned back to face his colleagues.
“It would be foolish for us to, uh, assume that we are as nimble now as we were when we founded this company. More and more of our sales are turning into Foundation stings. At this rate, um, it will only be a matter of time until one of us is captured. Medea’s from another universe, what do you think the Foundation will do if they capture her? Phineas, I, uh, I hope you like being a quadruple amputee, because they’ll take your prosthetics away if they capture you. If they don’t kill Isaac, Jason, or Jeffery, they’ll surely wipe your memories and leave you on the side of a highway in Indiana.”
Anderson shook his head.
“Mr. Marshall’s offer is quite generous. We are still in charge of the manufacturing and we are still in creative control of the products. They just want the distribution rights, and access to our clientele.”
“I refuse to work on anyone’s terms beside my own,” Phineas interrupted. “I will not let you bully me into this Vincent, not this time.”
“I’m not trying to bully any of you,” Anderson coolly replied. “You should know by now that I consider all of you my equals in this enterprise, and if you all truly feel that accepting this offer will create irreconcilable differences I will drop the subject. I, uh, I just can’t guarantee my original promise otherwise.”
The room fell silent for a few moments. One by one Anderson looked to each of his colleagues, each one avoiding his gaze.
“All in favor?” Isaac asked. Everyone but Phineas raised their hand. “The ayes have it. Thank you everyone, I’ll draw up the paperwork tonight.”
Soon after, the conference room emptied one by one until Phineas and Anderson were all that remained. Eventually, Anderson also made his way towards the door.
“How could you?” Phineas called out to him as he began to leave.
Anderson did not bother to reply, exiting the conference room without a word or a glance back.
The Secret Crest Pub was a small brewpub located in Portland’s Pearl District. The fact that the property was owned and operated by a former director of Site-64 made it a popular destination for facility personnel after their shifts ended. For this reason, Agents Shaw and Merlo found themselves sitting at a booth in a discrete corner of the bar.
“Do you know what Carter once called Gamma-13 after one of those times he had a few too many?” Merlo asked Shaw, her hand firmly gripping her fourth pint.
“Not at all,” Shaw replied with a light hearted smile, well aware that her boss likely had a few too many as well.
“Asimov’s Fuckups,” Merlo said with a grandiose wave of her hand. “Not the most creative title, but Carter has a point. It’s one step forward followed by twenty steps back. But hey, at least we aren’t Alpha-9.”
Shaw chuckled before she finished her first pint.
“What happens to us now?” she asked.
“Same thing that always happens after we drop the ball. Holman will reassign our agents to help quell the local anart beat,” Merlo answered with a sigh. She then looked over her companion and smiled, “You’ll fit right in Shaw. The anartists call us ‘The Suits’ around here.”
“Well, then,” Agent Shaw replied as another two pints were brought to the table. “At least we have job security.”
Shaw then held her pint up to make a toast.
“To Asimov’s Fuckups.”
“To Asimov’s Fuckups,” Merlo replied. The two women clinked their glasses, both prepared to drown their frustration over the course of the night.